Is the internet Killing the Book Review?

Adrianna W. posted this (her post is public, so if you are on FB, join in), so, you know… HT to her:

But the democratizing of book reviews, such that even self-published and low print-run books published by small presses can garner dozens of reviews by promoting “blog tours” or sending copies to readers with the expectation that they will post an Amazon review, has led not to better information for readers, but to a preponderance of inaccurate gushing.

How the Internet is Killing the Book Review.

John Hobbins spoke about this issue at the 2012 SBL Online Media and Publications section. You can read his paper here. I had hoped to see a follow-up section on this very topic, as his was a call rather than a diagram of what to expect. That section has yet to materialize.

Given the rise of online review platforms, such as Marginalia and Syndicate, not to mention the droves of bloggers who review, I have to agree that we need something of a standard. Of course, this will have to go both ways. Publishers have to be less willing to give out review copies if the reviewer doesn’t do a good job.

There is little doubt I have my favorite publishers, and not just because they give me books to review. I trust IVP, Kregel, Eerdmans, Baker, Fortress, and Energion because of their standards. I do not trust other publishers, and no I will not mention them. buT Y kNow, Don’t you, the not-ALE HOUSE i’m talking about? And likewise, I want them to trust me to give an honest review. Also, there are times I do my best to let some publishers, even passively, know that I do not need to be considered for some books. Seriously, I cannot handle much more of the inerrancy debate.

Some other thoughts…

I try to give good reviews based on the goal of the book and how effectively the author reaches it. For instance, in a recent review, I disagree with some of the author’s conclusions on X — however, that was not the goal of the book. I did mention that I disagreed with it, but I moved on. Sometimes, the goal of the book is simply not met and/or met in such a way as to cause some concern with the author’s cognitive capacity. American Patriot’s Bible, anyone?

Even with Kruger’s book about the canon, I tried to give an honest review and not because of the publisher and the awesome people there.

Sometimes, I end my reviews with “buy/read this book if X” so as to tell who would like the book.

The author of the above piece notes that she had received negative feedback from authors, publishers, and fans of those books she didn’t like. To be honest, unless the review needs a response (as a review of Chris Keith’s book did, once) authors and publishers should sort of mind their own business about reviews. Fans will follow you around. That’s the nature of the game. If you are perceived as bad mouthing a hero and you will be attacked. This is where the “block” feature comes in handy.

Further, the author notes “I recall one first-time author whose friends penned lavish review after lavish review.” This is not going to be fixed, except by ethical authors. I mean, friends aren’t going to always read the book as an unbiased observer — but because they are familiar with the author may more often than not hear the voice of the author while they are reading the book. Yes, friends may simply pen a review because of friendship, but I would suspect that lavish reviews are in part due to knowing the author. Publishers should work to not send authors’ friends copies. Authors will, however, do so. 

Again, the ethical considerations for and in book reviewing needs to go both ways, or three ways.

But to the blogger’s point. I do not think the internet is killing the book review. I think it is helping to further knowledge, advance the Kingdom, and to serve the intellectual appetites of many. Just because you get some garbage with the gold doesn’t mean the book review is dead, in the server room, with the space bar.

Review of @FortressPress’s Introduction to the History of Christianity (on @inkling)

Fortress Press is moving Christian education in the classroom beyond the four walls, the dry erase boards, and the dead trees of textbooks to something rich and vibrant, something that is going to grasp the imagination of the student. Tim Dowley’s (editor) Introduction to the History of Christianity is not simply an “e-book” but a multi-media experience. It moves beyond the portability offered by Kindle and iBook to something the teacher and student can both use to share and in many ways reimagine the words on the virtual page.

I cannot strictly limit this review to the contents of the book; however, as this is something of a book review, I want to speak, albeit ever so briefly, about what is before us. This is the second edition of the book, enhanced from the previous one by additions to the narrative of Jesus (in the form of contributions from well-known critical scholars such as Richard Burridge). There are plenty of color charts, maps, and pictures to stimulate you as well as small helps along the way. Further, as I explore certain topics that are dear to me, I find these topics are often presented with an acute sense of fairness. For instance, the topic on Methodism. Here, Dowley correctly situations Wesley and his people in the proper time frame, proper theological dialogues, and helps to draw out their influence on (American) Christianity. Likewise, Dowley’s even-handedness doesn’t end with Methodism, but continues on with such things as Vatican II. I must note that this is the first such book to spend even a brief moment on the rise of mythicism (p25). Also, Dowley doesn’t just pay lip-service to the East, but brings them into the picture equally with the West. The skill of the editor and the contributors can be seen throughout the 43 chapters. No doubt, this is one of the more extensive and important church history introductions available to student and autodidact alike.

But, the Inkling platform avails us of something more. It gives us an interactive experience. Not only can I take the books wherever I go, but they are linked to other internet sources including Youtube and CCEL. Thus, what was once one book has now become a virtual library of resources and a wealth of information on a multi-media rostrum. Yes, like Kindle and other platforms, there is the synchronization of notes and highlights, but unlike Kindle, there is a social aspect to it. In a classroom, you can actually utilize this book to aid in discussion by sharing notes, thoughts, and other items via the Inkling system. Thus,  students and the teacher(s) can dialogue even in the comfort of their own home. It’s like social media, but helpful.

Inkling also provides for a multimedia experience when it comes to maps. They boast, and rightly so, of a “guided tour” when it comes to the maps. Honestly, the best part of a bible were the maps when I was growing up. Now — now! Fortress Press gives me maps (and charts) in stereo! There is the ability to zoom in, to open pop-ups, and they even throw in thematic material. For example, on the chart “Beginnings,” I get a neat timeline between 0 and 325, complete with Roman figures, evens from the New Testament, and early Christian writings. There are 5 pop ups, each with added material. I’ve taken a screenshot below:

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At the end of each section (each section has several chapters), there is an assessment. These will not supplement a rigorous testing but will help the student to retain something of where things are in the book.

I have spent some time with this book, introducing it to others and in use in a classroom setting. It is beyond helpful for survey courses, small group studies, and even larger group studies. I have the Inkling iOS app. There are plenty of times, when I stream it to my tv via Apple TV. Further, pastors should be able to set it up via projector for larger gatherings.

There has to be an evolution of learning tools. Books, while they will forever remain with us, will never be the complete resource they once were. By combining technology, the information age, and the conceptual age, Fortress Press and Inkling have given teachers, students, and autodidacts something that will push the classroom experience to new heights.

Two new bundles you need from @AcademicLogos (@Logos, @FortressPress)

I have not had a chance to review this…I’ve not been asked (HINT) but these two really stand out:

The first is the Pontifical Biblical Institute:

Immerse yourself in ancient-language texts and detailed Scripture exegesis with the Pontifical Biblical Institute Ancient Language Studies. This 50-volume collection compiles a broad range of works—from interpretation of Scripture to grammatical analysis of Hebrew Poetry, from Aramaic inscriptions to Greek word studies.

The Pontifical Biblical Institute has been publishing critical and instructional texts since it was established by Pope Pius X in 1909. The PBI seeks to “cultivate and promote, by means of scholarly research, the biblical and relevant ancient Near Eastern disciplines, with due respect to the nature of each one of them, in order to obtain ‘a more profound understanding and exposition of the meaning of Sacred Scripture.’” Each volume in this collection serves those same aims, with explorations of Ugaritic, Akkadian, Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. Whether you’re a new student of ancient literature or a seasoned ministry professional, gain clarity and depth in your study with this valuable collection.

The PBI is a stellar institution. I have several of their resources already – and I would not think of engaging the original languages without them.

The second is from Fortress Press:

Explore the historical, social, theological, and pastoral perspectives on the New Testament with this substantial bundle from Fortress Press. Authors Neil ElliottE.P. SandersTerence L. DonaldsonBen Witherington III, and many more contribute to this comprehensive and diverse trove of resources. Pastors, students, and anyone interested in reinforcing their understanding of Christ’s ministry, the nuances of the Gospels, and the life and theology of Paul will appreciate the value of this collection.

Seventy volumes cover an array of significant topics—Paul’s relationship to Jewish tradition and thought, the nature and implications of Christ’s crucifixion, the formation of the canon, the historic Jesus, the political context of Rome, and more. There are dozens of volumes on Paul and Jesus, seven specifically on John’s Gospel, four on Matthew’s, and five on Luke/Acts. Equip yourself for meaningful study of God’s Word with the Fortress Press New Testament Studies Bundle.

Review of @Steve_Runge’s “High Definition Commentary: Romans” @academiclogos

high-definition-commentary-romans

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There is at once among Protestants a supreme knowledge of Romans and yet a depth of ignorance. We read it as if we know what Paul is saying, and sometimes we do, but in the end we are going? to miss a lot of the meaning behind Paul’s letter. Why? Because we are reading Paul, looking for words rather than looking for structure. We assign meaning to the words, but Paul has carefully chosen his wording based on a structure.

But, there is a move to fix that. Stanley Stowers proposed a different reading of Romans, based on rhetorical apostrophes. Douglas Campbell recently proposed reading Romans, using rhetoric, but as if the whole piece is deeply entrenched in rhetoric. And I cannot help but mention the New Perspective(s) on Paul. With all of these “new” readings of Romans, one would think we could know just about every angle there is, to read Romans in every way possible. There is still room, however, in exploring Romans. I believe Steve Runge’s new commentary will help to moderate some modern stances while enlivening more traditional ones.

The High Definition Romans Commentary works with the methodology Runge laid down in his Discourse series and exampled in the High Definition New Testament. More than that, it attempts to connect the academy to the Church, from the literary to the literological. Runge accomplishes his task, not just “well enough,” but in a grand fashion wherein this reviewer at times wanted to show some measure of physical excitement at what he was reading.

The commentary is written with you in mind. Rather than modify that statement, to surround “you” with either the academic or the lay, or other, qualifiers, just know: this commentary is written to you. In that regards, there are no footnotes to vast amounts of data you most likely either know or wouldn’t read anyway. Rather, you are able to read the commentary based on what the structure provides, albeit with Runge’s voice in the foreground.

As the author states, the commentary is not about what is said, but how it is said. Thus, he guides us through Paul’s structuring of Romans as the definitive way of reading Romans. We do not have to wait long for Runge to dive deep into this. He opens up with Paul’s purpose, easily identified in the first few lines of Romans — he wants to introduce himself to the Roman church. He wants to build a relationship. Thus, he must carefully detail his theology. He stresses how each point serves a purpose in Paul’s rhetoric. Indeed, not much in Romans, if anything, is written on a whim. Every word, given the appropriate structure, is given purpose.

I have written before on Romans 1.18-32. I simply feel that of all the passages in Paul’s writings, deutero­– or otherwise, this passage is the most misused. In fact, I will judge a commentary on Romans by how this singular passage is presented. Perhaps this is why I am drawn so heavily into Douglas Campbell’s viewpoint. So that is why I am going to use my review and interaction with this passage as a way to show you why I accept this commentary as valid and the methodology of Runge as important.

Keep in mind, I’ve only seen the pre-publication copy. I cannot, thus, cite page numbers and will not directly cite Runge’s words. They may change during the final publication review.

Runge challenges me, but he doesn’t do it by stating, “the bible says.” Rather, Runge is showing how something is said and doing very little to add to Scripture. Indeed, even though we arrive at different conclusions, he raises points I had never seen before because, even though I pride myself on attempting to read this passage as deeply rhetorical, I still read it with a wooden structure.

For instance, what is the wrath of God revealed against? Here, Runge isn’t carefully crafting anything. There is nothing else but to show by refracting our vision to see Paul’s structure what is actually happening in this passage. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much, but I believe this is the first time I’ve seen this revealed in any critical Romans commentary. Why? Because Runge is revealing Paul’s structure and in doing so, he is revealing the central elements to Paul’s statements such as connecting words, pointing words, and framing language.

We do much the same thing when we diagram sentences in English. We strip away the pointers and other qualifiers to get to the heart of the sentence. Runge does the same thing. But in stripping away some of the elements Paul uses, he also strips away our patina, the glaze of our own theological stances, to reveal to us something we may be missing.

In the end, what Runge does in Romans 1.18-32 is to reveal Paul’s structure and then to help, ever so slightly, to define what is going on here. Yes, he and I arrive at different conclusions on this, but he has caused me to reconsider my already known and set-in-stone facts about this passage.

Another section that I think epitomizes Runge’s work on Romans is his reflection on Romans 3 after he has completed Romans 9. Other commentators often accuse Paul of having drifting thoughts. Yet, Runge shows this is not the case. In fact, I contend, the more so after reading this commentary, that Paul wants his readers to re-read Romans while they are reading it. What do I mean?

When Runge arrives to Romans 9, he is able to then refer back to Romans 3 based on the structure of Romans 9. We must assume, then, the audience after hearing Romans 9 (or rather, what is Romans 9) would immediately start to recall what had been said just a few minutes before (in Romans 3). This would then trigger their thought process to reprocess what they had heard up until that point because suddenly everything is making sense. Paul is not simply laying down a linear path, but writing as the sea billows wave — paths on top of each other.

Why would you need this book? In my opinion, every serious scholar and exegete (preaching or otherwise) needs this book. First, if you have the High Definition New Testament, you will finally get to see what Runge is doing. This is the High-Def NT in action. Second, this helps to understand Paul’s main point of Romans. I believe Stowers is correct, that this epistle is a protreptic forerunner; however, he did not have the structure laid so bare as to reveal why he felt this way. All he had was the common rhetorical clues and a good argument. Runge, while not intentionally following Stowers’ suggestion, helps to prove Paul’s thesis is one of introduction, of theology laid bare. While Stowers argues, Runge demonstrates.

A final word about Runge’s methodology. Often times, when discussing rhetoric or other structuring elements in a text, we are tempted to jump into Schweizer’s well. We see in that text more of ourselves and how we would structure something rather than allowing the ancient author his own pen. As much as I have tried, I do not see this in Runge’s work. Rather, I see a consistent methodology that only springs into a commentary. Of course Runge is operating within predetermined framework, but I do not believe this has led him to be biased against Paul’s natural structure. Rather, any reader of this commentary and Romans should be able to see how natural this commentary is based on Paul’s structure as suggested by Runge — and how natural Runge’s scaffolding is natural to the inherent Pauline text. You are not going to be told how to see it; Runge is simply pointing out important clues so that you will see what is already there.

There are other benefits to this book. In the Logos Bible Software platform, the publication will be accompanied with a plethora of teaching slides that are excellent for the classroom and the sanctuary. Further, it helps to truly bring the uniqueness of the High-def New Testament to light. It provides a clear process to follow in reading Romans. In other words, it doesn’t use a lot of confusing language to show you simply what is happening in the text. It doesn’t argue anything; rather, Runge states what he sees and tells you just a little about how this applies. As an added plus, Runge’s language helps the reader to understand the structure by carefully selected words such as “hinge,” “framing,” and “drawing out.”

New from @Logos @LogosLutheran

I’ve been watching closely as Logos has been releasing these new packages and I was super excited when I checked my email today and saw the release of the Lutheran Bible Software packages!

There are several reasons why I would want to get my hands on a copy of this: there are 15 volumes of the Bonhoeffer Works series (yeah, it’s missing one, but I can overlook that), the selected works by Luther, and Liturgy for Christian Congregations of the Lutheran Faith…to name a few.

All I can say is, “This looks awesome!”

17th Century Theology in Anglican Gold, @logos @LogosAnglican

Jeremy Taylor is depicted in this portrait at ...

Jeremy Taylor is depicted in this portrait at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to highlight where I am in looking at the Anglican Gold from Logos Bible Software.

Instead of randomly going through, I want to delve a bit deeper. My reasons are manifold. First, this is a package which will startle many with the price. Granted, there are payment plans and dynamic pricing, but some may be put off. You shouldn’t be.

Second, as a (high church) United Methodist, I find a great deal of doctrinal footing in the Anglican Church. If I am going to do theology as United Methodist, then I intend to do it in line with the tradition of the United Methodist Church which doesn’t just extend to Wesley, but into the Anglican Church as well. Wesleyan theology isn’t ex nihilio, but ex materia.

(shucks, maybe even ex deo)

Third, because, combining both one and two, theology is not cheap. If you are going to do it right, you will have to invest into something, even if it is a library card.

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English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, I am starting with the 17th Century theologians included in the Gold package. First, is Jeremy Taylor:

Jeremy Taylor (15 August 1613 – 13 August 1667) was a clergyman in the Church of England who achieved fame as an author during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. He is sometimes known as the “Shakespeare of Divines” for his poetic style of expression and was often presented as a model of prose writing. He is remembered in the Church of England’s calendar of saints with a Lesser Festival on 13 August. He was under the patronage of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.

This is a 4 volume set. Let me highlight the last one in the series:

A Discourse on the Liberty of Prophesying is an essay on the need for religious freedom. It purports to show “the unreasonableness of prescribing to other men’s [sic] faith; and the eniquity [sic] of persecuting differing opinions.” The essay is unique for a number of reasons, one of which is that it was written nearly 50 years before John Locke’s seminal “A Letter Concerning Toleration.”

There is something in the opening line of the introductory essay. In speaking of the downfall of the Roman empire, the author writes, “over which the mists of ignorance were settling with increasing density, and from which public virtue had fled, all remains of liberty became extinct.”

Taylor has a chapter in the book title, “Of the Difficulty of Expounding Scripture.” He writes,

THESE considerations are taken from the nature of Scripture itself; but then, if we consider that we have no certain ways of determining places of difficulty and question, infallibly and certainly; but that we must hope to be saved in the belief of things plain, necessary, and fundamental, and our pious endeavor to find out God’s meaning in such places, which he hath left under a cloud, for other great ends reserved to his own knowledge, we shall see a very great necessity in allowing a liberty in prophesying, without prescribing authoritatively to other men’s consciences, and becoming lords and masters of their faith.1

You won’t believe what Taylor has to say about Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Perhaps this is why Wesley include Taylor’s works in his Christian Library.

Likewise, there is Bishop Thomas Ken (another Wesley favorite).

The Works of Thomas Ken presents the works of a famous scholar and chaplain during the late 1600s in England. This collection includes one of his most well-known works—the pamphlet Ichabod, otherwise known as The Five Groans of the Church—which Ken wrote a few years after his ordination. Eager to spread Christianity to others, he was an avid writer and teacher. His sermons, letters, hymns, and poems are also included, which cover temptation, judgment, resurrection, and more.

Finally, there is John Cosin,

The Works of John Cosin is a collection of the most prominent writings Cosin produced over a career as a bishop and a scholar. The series includes sermons, articles, letters, and books, including one of his best known works, A Scholastical History of the Canon of the Holy Scripture. In this book, Cosin dives into the history of the canonical books through the testimonies of the ecclesiastical writers from the first through the sixteenth centuries, elaborating why Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.

I suspect that any of the three, but especially all of the three, would speak well to us today.

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  1. Jeremy Taylor, A Discourse of the Liberty of Prophesying (Sacred Classics; Washington: Duff Green, 1834), 140.

The question

As technology, ideas and the world itself moves ever forward, the
christian church has been grappling with the difficult questions. It has always been like this and I suspect it will continue to be like this. The more learned write papers and books, the less learned read them. Many of us blog, tweet and post Facebook statuses. Teachers teach and preachers preach and ideas and attitudes change or not depending on who is the most influential. I wonder if in all the struggling with the difficult questions, that we missed the point, that we have missed the central question of it all?

Throughout the NT we see Jesus ask questions, tell stories, live His life by and even on occasion simply teach principles to live by and emulate. Jesus is continually calling, encouraging and even perhaps begging us to self examination and reflection for the purpose of those things leading to transformation.  In many ways, arguably the most famous teachings of Jesus in the sermon on the mount found in Matthew chapters 5-7 is a self examination checklist. Is my life reflecting these teachings? Am I the salt of the earth? Am I light? A peacemaker, do I mourn, do I really hunger and thirst for righteousness? It goes on.

John Wesley is credited with opening his group meetings with this somewhat famous question: “How is it with your soul?” The purpose was actually rather simple. It goes deeper than how are you doing, it goes deeper than how are the wife and kids, it goes deeper than how is the job. It cuts directly to the central question in the journey of faith. How is it with your soul? How is the transformation process going in your life? So, your heart was strangely warmed- great- what has come next? Before any teaching on the difficult things, before any grappling with the times and our place in them as Christians, there was the central question – the question Jesus kept referring us to as well- How is it with your soul?

United Methodist churches and authors have written volumes on the subject and encouraged us to ask each other the question to keep ourselves honest. When was the last time someone asked you? No one has asked me. I have often been asked my stance on the bible, on free will, on predetermination, on the sacraments as a means of grace, on foot washing, etc. but not really the central question. Lately it has all centered on the question of what my stance on homosexuality is. How sad is it that in this day and age, after several thousand years to have the ability to examine the importance of the central question that seemingly everyone is asking what is your stance on homosexuality, and seemingly no one is asking how is it with your soul?

What does it mean to be a #UMC blogger?

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English: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The very Catholic Dr. Michael Barber has some comments on the latest ranking. He notes that among the Top 50, there are only two Catholics.

So, it got me to thinking. What does it take for one to be a UMC blogger? Allan Bevere has a somewhat weekly feature about Methodist bloggers. However, are these United Methodists who blog, or are they United Methodist bloggers?

Anyway, I was thinking of working with others to build a conference pointed to the UMC social media world, designed to help UMCers take part in the WWW by blogging and other forms of social media engagement. It would help to build an identity for this bloggers and encourage others to follow suit.

But, I guess the real question is — what does it mean to be a UMC blogger? What are our goals as UMC bloggers? Can we use it to evangelize for the UMC? Can, or should we, use it to settle disputes before the General Conference?

Can I, with a given disposition to Rome, still be called a UMC blogger?

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In the email: Anglican Gold – @Logos Bible Software #umc

Thanks to Ben at Logos for this:

A Bible study powerhouse: Anglican Gold comes with all of Logos 5’s advanced tools, including the Timeline, Bible Sense Lexicon, Sermon Starter Guide, and everything from the lower base packages. Plus, you’ll get a huge library of 797 resources worth over $21,600 in print. These include key Anglican titles, like the 14-volume Charles Gore Collection, the nine-volume Select Works of Dom Gregory Dix, and the 10-volume John Polkinghorne Science and Theology Collection.

This package is specifically designed for the Anglican tradition—it combines smart Bible study tools with a world-class library of Anglican resources, making it perfect for anyone wanting to go deeper in their Anglican studies.

via Anglican Gold – Logos Bible Software.

This might be a rather long review of this product. I suspect, and rightly so, there will be no Methodist package. After all, what do you get when you cross the Anglicans and the Reformed?

You get Methodism proper.

Anyway, a quick glance reveals Methodism via Wesley as well as those Wesley deemed important. Further, there is the completely awesome series, Feasting on the Word.

When you invest into things like this, what are you looking for?

You too can own Jim West

For centuries, most commentaries have been written by experts, for experts—the massive volumes that line pastors’ and professors’ shelves inaccessible without extensive education. Meanwhile, the person in the pew has been largely forgotten. This series is designed to correct this problem, empowering laypeople to read the Bible with understanding. Keeping the forgotten person in the pew in mind, Baptist pastor and professor Jim West makes the best in biblical scholarship available in a form useful for personal devotion, preaching, Sunday school lessons, and generally growing in knowledge of God’s word.

The straightforward presentation features the biblical text in bold, followed by West’s readable commentary. There are no frills, no extensive footnotes, no lengthy outlines, and no overbearing introductions—just the text and what it means. West uses the American Standard Version of the Bible. He guides the reader through the Bible with a warm, pastoral voice, focusing on clearly communicating the main message of each book. At the end of each volume, he provides a bibliography enabling interested reader to go deeper. Whether you’re in the pews on Sunday, or standing in front of them, the Person in the Pew Commentary is an accessible tool that encourages local church members to get into the Word and understand what it says.

The Person the Pew Commentary Series (36 vols.) – Logos Bible Software.